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Whole Foods halts plans to build bigger Pittsburgh store in East Liberty

| Thursday, March 30, 2017, 3:33 p.m.
Whole Foods
A Whole Foods store

Whole Foods said Thursday it is not moving forward with plans to build a store on the site of East Liberty's Penn Plaza apartments because of local concerns about the project.

“We have been listening to our customers and the community, and we understand the concerns about this development. Until these issues have been resolved, we do not plan to move forward with the project,” Whole Foods spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said in a statement.

Buchanan did not provide specifics on the concerns or what issues needed to be resolved, but the project has been mired in controversy since the site's owners announced they would displace Penn Plaza's mostly low-income residents to clear the way for redevelopment.

An attorney for property owner Pennley Park South, a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors LLC, did not return a call seeking comment.

Whole Foods' announcement came on the same day that Mayor Bill Peduto's office said the last seven residents remaining at Penn Plaza had arranged for new places to live and were expected to move out by Friday.

“This is not a day of celebration, but an example of why we need better protections for low-income tenants in our city,” Peduto said in a news release.

The fate of Penn Plaza's residents has been an issue since 2015, when Pennley Park South notified the complex's roughly 200 residents that they had 90 days to find other housing.

Under a deal reached between the city and company, residents of one of the complex's buildings had to move out by March 2016 and residents of the other building had to do so by Friday. In return, the company agreed to help subsidize the residents' relocation and proceed with redevelopment of the property in phases.

“There was a lot of pain and uncertainty faced by longtime residents, and the city held the private owners of the site accountable so that instead of mass evictions, we were able to ensure everyone received a new home,” Peduto said.

In addition to subsidies from the company, the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority paid $300,000 for relocation services and several other developers contributed about $50,000 to help fix up apartments owned by East Liberty Development Inc. at Mellon's Orchard for some displaced residents.

Redevelopment plans were up in the air before Thursday's announcement by Whole Foods. The city's Planning Commission in January shot down the plans, which included a parking garage, offices and about 400 apartments. The company has sued to overturn the decision.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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